Zurich is an emerging location for innovative companies looking to compete well beyond the Swiss border. Given that it is well known for being one of the world’s primary banking hubs, it’s no surprise that many of the startups that are making a huge impact are in the FinTech space and are competing well with the larger establishment.
This week, Emergn and Swiss Banking Advisors hosted an executive conference centered on business and technology trends in the market. Leaders came from an array of backgrounds, including large, global business, startups, venture capital and organizations focused on improving diversity in leadership roles.
While it’s always interesting to hear the perspective on innovation from large, global companies – the most informative piece was the emphasis on product management.
Focus on the customer
Over the last year I’ve heard more and more companies talk about the move from a project to product focus. This change reflects the need to get closer to the customer, create quicker and tighter feedback loops and stop measuring success by whether we delivered a project on time and on budget. It also speaks to how much the business is now taking a lead on innovation and wanting to center on shaping the relationship with their technology organizations.
What does this mean? For the past few years the trend on innovation has been to setup innovation labs, offices and areas where ideas would be developed and tested, often distanced from the company’s day to day operations. This was one of the themes shared by organizations like UBS and Credit Suisse. Yet, if you look deeper, there is a trend across many industries to go horizontal on innovation instead of remaining vertical – by taking the thinking and purpose into the business. Recent examples of this include Walmart who has taken a product acceleration approach to innovation that brings together the company’s business and technology leaders along with real users to discuss ideas that will not only solve problems but help them go much further, much fast than before. You can read about Walmart’s success in this area here.
In contrast to big business, the startups in the room demonstrated how they’ve grasped the concept of modern product management thinking to compete effectively by delivering new products and services into the market faster than larger companies.
Improving the fuzzy front end with faster decisions
The other reason that product management stood out was because it highlighted the need to address the fuzzy front end of vetting the most valuable ideas. Budget and development wasn’t the obstacle, it was the company’s inability to quickly get to a business value proposition around an idea and have more confidence, and dare I say certainty, that an idea would deliver the greatest return to their bottom line. Part of this is also to say no to things that only provide marginal value so they can really deliver great solutions where they’re most needed. In the end, this is what innovation is really describing – the ability and capability to deliver products that meet customer demand, produce a healthy return and an organization that can respond with speed and scale.
All this talk raised another valid point around talent. The talent gap in the market is growing for specific skills needed to work in a forward thinking business. Product managers need to be up-skilled with more design thinking in their DNA. Business leaders and management need a fresh mindset around change, organizational behaviors and how they define agility for their business.
Great products come from great teams
Technology teams are lacking the flexibility and thinking to innovate and need to get away from a methodology driven lifestyle where they use the flavor of the month to operate a development lifecycle. Rather, they need to introduce the concepts and practices they can adopt in their context. Another’s process isn’t going to produce the best results.
Innovation is all about people. While we get this point inherently, the challenge is that we default to technology discussions instead of extracting the best ideas, understanding our customer and looking at these topics through the lens of human impact.